As Makane, a father of three in his 50s with thick black hair and large glasses, recounted that final meeting, he looked across the courtroom at the gray-haired Shibin, who was sitting pensively at the defense table.
“You will definitely not like me to see you again,” the captain recalled Shibin saying as he left the tanker that December day. “If you see me, you will hate me.”
The circumstances that brought an Indian ship captain, a Ukrainian engineer, German police officers and representatives of a German shipping company into a Norfolk federal courtroom for the trial of a Somali negotiator are complicated, involving a second hijacking and centuries-old U.S. statutes on high-seas piracy.
But the case highlights what federal authorities say is the important and little-known role that negotiators such as Shibin play in Somali piracy, which has received international attention in recent years. A U.N. Security Council report in July said that such piracy remains a “threat to global shipping” and a “humanitarian tragedy for hijacked seafarers and kidnapped hostages.”
Although hijackings have declined in the past year or so because of stepped-up security precautions, attempted hijackings by Somali pirates are on the rise, international authorities say. This year, Somali pirates have successfully hijacked 13 ships and continue to hold more than 180 hostages.
Multilingual, computer-savvy negotiators such as Shibin make piracy profitable, said Neil MacBride, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, whose attorneys prosecuted Shibin this year.
“But for guys like Shibin, there would be fewer hijackings,” MacBride said. “The six guys who seize the ship and speak no English, they need a man like Shibin to monetize the ship, its crew and its cargo.”
Shibin is not the only alleged pirate negotiator in U.S. custody. Federal prosecutors are seeking to try Ali Mohamed Ali in the District’s federal court on charges tied to the 2008 hijacking of a Danish ship.
Shibin was arrested last year by the FBI shortly after he participated in the hijacking of the Quest, a U.S. sailboat on which four Americans were killed by Somali pirates. The 50-year-old former teacher — who learned English at school in the Somali capital, Mogadishu, is a father of five and once worked as an oil company dispatcher — was convicted of piracy and hostage-taking on the Marida Marguerite and the Quest. He was sentenced in August to life in prison. His court-appointed attorney, James O. Broccoletti, who argued that Shibin was nothing more than a humanitarian intermediary, is appealing the verdict.